More discussion set to determine fate of Hummers Parade

MIDDLETOWN — It’s been 11-plus months now and another new year is fast approaching.

The traditional Jan. 1 Hummers Parade’s fate remains unresolved after Monday night’s regular council meeting.
Hope for a path forward remains, however.

A resident committee’s recently proposed parade permit guidelines didn’t pass federal law or First Amendment muster. The town’s solicitor attorney Scott E. Chambers continues to evaluate options.

The committee was not tasked with determining the legality of regulating free speech, which was left up to Mr. Chambers.
More public discussion is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 at town hall, when officials expect some form of guidelines to be approved.

Notice of the meeting and an agenda will be officially posted at middletown.delaware.gov one week prior. Previous meeting minutes are already available online.

There’s still time, then, for a New Year’s Day permit allowing a parade, Mayor Kenneth L. Branner Jr. told an audience of about 40 near the end of Monday’s meeting at 19 W. Green Street.
“We haven’t made any decisions at all,” said the mayor, who has declined comment other than what’s been said publicly.

Highly controversial content (including a depiction of detention at the U.S.-Mexico border) in the 2019 Hummers version sparked widespread community outrage and town leaders were appalled as well.
Council appointed the committee that met publicly on Oct. 30 and Nov. 13 and then submitted proposed guidelines to council. Public comment was considered in the recommendations.

Residents S.R. Smith, Kate Rokosz, Milton Delgado, Bob Bolton, Charles Warrick, Nicole Homer and Scott Saunders were appointed by council members and joined by Town Manager Morris Deputy during the discussions. Individuals were allowed to speak up to two minutes in front of the panel as well.

Some residents advocated for renaming, canceling or postponing the parade, which Mr. Deputy said was noted in the meeting minutes presented to council.

Elected officials selecting the committee included Mayor Branner, Vice Mayor James Reynolds and Councilmen Drew Chas, Robert McGhee, Robert Stout, James D. Royston and Aaron T. Blythe,

For decades in the rapidly growing southern New Castle town, the annual march has proceeded north toward the downtown intersection of Main and South Broad (Del. 71) streets. Hundreds of spectators line the route as the deliberately unstructured parade begins around 1 p.m.-ish.

The annual get-together began in the early 1970s when neighbors walked together to cheer up a sick friend on the same day as Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade.

On its official website, the town describes the gathering (which lasts 20 to 30 minutes some years) this way:
“The Hummers Parade, a Middletown tradition on New Year’s Day for more than 30 years, is not sponsored by the Town, or any Middletown organization, and is haphazardly thrown together on the day of the event by local residents.

“Anyone may join in the fun on Jan. 1 around noon, and line up in the vicinity of 100 S. Cass Street.
“The idea of the parade is to spoof events that happened in the previous year …”

Waiting to see
On Monday night self-proclaimed Hummer’s “Grand Marshal for Life” Jack Schreppler stood before town council asking for an update on a permit request nearly a year ago. He received no indication of its status, other than that all parade guidelines would be discussed at the Dec. 18 meeting.

Mr. Schreppler has participated in each parade since 1971, leading the way on a pair of roller skates while wearing a black top hat and tuxedo-style outfit, grasping a scepter and with a whistle chained around his neck for easy access.

Afterward, Mr. Schreppler said he would have “no substantive comment” before adding “The Delaware State News Newshound has been in the parade for many years and I hope to see it again.”
Debbie Harrington, a 12-year Middletown resident, sought clarification on the upcoming parade’s status before council. Afterward, she spoke about the difficulty of creating rules to follow when it involves an event that’s so politically incorrect and irreverent at its core.

“If it does continue it will have to be under certain strict guidelines,” she said, expressing distaste for past inflammatory content and disappointment that Middletown was negatively portrayed because of it.
Curtis Rogers, who has lived in Middletown since 2005, said he believed the parade should be discontinued and forecast significant public protest on Jan. 1 if it isn’t.

All parades included
Officials said guidelines are being formalized for all parades within town limits, not just the Hummers. Other annual parades include Christmas (marching this Saturday morning) M.O.T. Little League (April), Memorial Day (May) and Peach Festival (August) events.

The proposed rules must be viewed in their entirety, not individually, for legal purposes, the mayor said. Just one illegal item would make the entire set of guidelines in violation.
Other far less scrutinized Hummers Parade presentations in 2019 included, among others, recognition of late actor Burt Reynolds, homages to the Super Bowl champion Eagles, marijuana legalization efforts and the Robert Mueller investigation.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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